73 Questions

Filmmaker Q&A with Director Leah Nichols

What motivated you to make your impact video?

I am always motivated to represent under-represented populations, and specifically, I was motivated to reverse the cultural stigma of homelessness by expanding the limited, traditional way in which people who are homeless are visually represented in mainstream media.


Please tell us about any special styles or techniques that you used during the production of your impact video to help tell your story.

The style of the film is hand-drawn animation which was chosen in order to temporarily suspend reality and limit viewers’ assumptions.


How did your story evolve from day one, to the very last day in post? Is your story what you thought it would be?

The entire style was initially intended to be live action. Only after viewing the footage, which was horrible quality, was it decided this would be an animation. And it turns out the animation style was one of the main factors in the story.


Please describe the most rewarding experience you had while making this impact video.

It is rewarding to share the finished film with its main subject, Steve, and his close-knit neighborhood community.


What advice can you give to other impact filmmakers?

Inspiring curiosity over pity is more fun and effective.


What’s your favorite part about the filmmaking process and why?

I enjoy that filmmaking can include completely opposite creative skill sets and processes: It often requires a very outward approach where one may conduct outreach and work collaboratively (especially when building trust and rapport with film subjects). And also, it requires a very inward approach where one may be working alone with the material for weeks.


What’s the one item you always take with you when working out in the field and why?

A pen and paper. Writing things down is quicker and less alienating when talking with others. You can also draw.


Please provide a brief description of the work or organization featured in your video:

I am working to reverse the cultural stigma of homelessness and expand the currently limited visual representation of people who are un-housed or living on the streets.


What have you learned about the value and impact of the project?

The film screenings are as equally impactful as the film itself. The screenings create opportunities to bring people together and foster a dialogue.


Please share a personal story about your experience making this impact video.

During filming, people’s reactions really surprised me. At one point we walked down Valencia Street and usually walking down Valencia Street the way that I look doesn’t trigger any response, but walking down Valencia Street with Steve, me looking like me and him looking like him, put me into a context where people were not only uncomfortable but aggressive. A few passersby stopped me or yelled at me because they assumed I was filming him without his knowledge or permission, and saw me as a threat, someone who was invading his privacy. That was a humbling experience and speaks to the fact that there is a palpable fear of difference at a nation-wide level as well as a neighborhood level. It is rare we see people interacting, let alone see friendships, that are made up of people that are different from one another.


What do you want audiences to take away from this video?

Narratives about public problems and/or underrepresented communities deserve creative attention and can be whimsical, funny, etc.


Please list key points that should be covered in a post-screening discussion:

– The need for new, fresh ways to tackle tired social issues, e.g. homelessness.

– The current portrayal of people living on the streets in mainstream media.

– The ability to address a social issue through human stories where the focus is the excitement in simply getting to know someone.


What opportunities are available for those interested in getting further involved?

Connection or partnership with California homeless shelters or community centers that want to showcase more media or discussion around the representation of people who are un-housed and/or living on the street.



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